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Number of smallpox cases worldwide 1920-1980

The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that there were millions of smallpox cases every year until the 1970s, when the WHO's eradication program then successfully eliminated the disease in nature. Some academic estimates place smallpox's death toll at 300 million in the twentieth century, and 500 million in its final hundred years of existence. The development of the smallpox vaccination, which was the first successfully developed vaccine (the word vaccination comes from the Latin word for cow;"vacca", as cowpox was used to develop the smallpox vaccine), greatly contributed to the significant decline in infant and child mortality across the globe, and the boom in population growth during the twentieth century.

Reported cases

In spite of these large numbers, the figures for reported cases was only a tiny fraction of this; for example, the WHO estimates that there were fifty million cases in 1950, however less than one percent of these cases were recorded. In spite of this, the data is still useful for showing how smallpox developed and spread throughout the world; we know that the majority of these cases were recorded in the Indian sub-continent, and that epidemics across Asia drove the number of recorded cases up in the middle of the century. The final naturally-occurring cases were observed in 1977, while the two cases in 1978 were due to a lab accident in England, which resulted in one fatality.

Reported number of smallpox cases globally between 1920 and 1980

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Release date




Survey time period

1920 to1980

Supplementary notes

Figures between 1959 and 1966 have been corrected to adjust for underreporting.

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Statistics on "Smallpox"

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